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A short story by

Robert Brooks

He remained there for hours. The zerg presence never returned. The Dominion officers came for him and dragged the kicking and screaming Shane to the resocialization tanks.

The scientists had gone to work with boredom.

The transparent tube door had closed over him and Shane had screamed as the pain finally began, but neither the officers nor the scientists had taken notice. He was a murderer and worse. Pure scum.

Agony pulsed through his head. Memories rose to his mind's eye unbidden and shuffled away just as fast.

Shane hadn't been able to control it. He hadn't understood what was happening. His life had marched past as he had thrashed and cursed.

Now he understood. The scientists had inspected his memories. Catalogued them. Found the ones that hurt the most. They had made him relive them all. Only later had they changed them.

He blinked. They had started at the beginning, and it began with pain.

Eight-year-old Geoff Shane had fallen backward and landed on his back, dazed and bleeding from the nose.

His father had been yelling, demanding an apology, fist still clenched. Geoff had apologized over and over, something about a chair he had accidentally broken. His head throbbed from the pain.

PFC Shane wasn't merely remembering it; he was reliving it. His thoughts swam. His tongue felt thick and numb. Some of his teeth wiggled loose on the left side of his jaw. He could smell the poisonously sharp stench of whiskey on his father's breath. He heard his younger self mumble yet another apology and felt the slap he received in return.

His father had wanted a more sincere apology. "Tell her you're sorry like you mean it," he had said.

Don't laugh, PFC Shane wailed. The boy couldn't hear him. In his daze, eight-year-old Geoff had laughed, unafraid. "Mom's dead and she would have hated that chair," the boy had giggled.

His father's fist had whistled through the air, and the memories grew fuzzy for a time. PFC Shane heard two of Geoff's ribs cracking and felt more pain in his head. When the boy had finally woken up, his thoughts had been out of order. Fear had retreated far into the distance, but anger and pain had throbbed in its place. His heartbeat had pounded in his ears. Sweat had beaded on his forehead.

His head had felt as if it would burst at the seams.

His father had been asleep. Or passed out. It didn't matter. Geoff had stood in the bedroom doorway and watched his father's chest rise and fall for a while. He had thought about grabbing a knife from the kitchen or finding his father's "Koprulu Special" revolver with the chrome siding.

A belch had escaped his father's mouth. The smell of alcohol had wafted through the room.

The eight-year-old boy had walked unsteadily out to the kitchen and noticed for the first time the mostly empty bottle of strong hooch on the table. He had sniffed the dark amber liquid. He had thought about it. PFC Shane remained silent and numb.

When Geoff had made his decision, he had walked back to his father's bedroom and dumped the remainder of the bottle onto the sleeping man's chest.

No. PFC Shane tried to escape to another memory. Anything else. He even tried running back to his resocialization. To his conviction. He would have gladly welcomed that pain. It didn't work. They were going to make him relive every awful moment.

His father had snorted and licked his lips as the alcohol had splattered over his body, but he hadn't woken up. Geoff had found his father's lighter next to his cheap Umojan cigars and flicked it. He had held the dancing orange flame over his father and stared. Then he had dropped it.

Geoff had been surprised at how slowly the flames had grown. He had been equally surprised that his father had never woken up. Smoke had filled the room, and the smell of burning fabric and flesh had made Geoff retch. He had stumbled outdoors and watched as the flames had spread through the home, and had remembered far, far too late that his three-month-old sister had still been sleeping in her bedroom.

He never tried to save her. He had sat silently with his head in his hands and peeked out between his fingers, watching the flames twist.

Shane blinked. He was back in the resocialization tank, screaming in pain, and then reality fell away from him again.

Please stop.

His memories hopped forward a decade. Eighteen-year-old Geoff Shane had lured a young girl to his dump-house apartment with promises of free snoke. The girl had been strung out. She hadn't needed much convincing, and she had nodded off after a few minutes, her eyes darting around underneath her eyelids in some drug-fueled dream. It was what Shane had been waiting for.

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